Why ITN’s decision to admit its BAME pay gap was smarter than it looks

Julia Rampen explore’s the reasoning behind ITN publishing its BAME pay gap data

In the first of her weekly columns, Julia Rampen explore’s the reasoning behind ITN publishing its BAME pay gap data, mean bonus gap and the percentage of BAME in its workforce.

  • ITN’s data shows BAME workers earn 16.1 per cent less than white, British colleagues.
  • TUC shows on average BAME workers earn 13.9 per cent than white colleagues
  • 2 per cent of director positions in FTSE 100 firms are BAME

Where’s the outrage at BAME pay gap?

If you work at ITN, the company that makes TV shows for ITV and Channel Four, and you happen to have dark skin, a non-Anglicised name, visible religious clothing, a foreign accent or anything else that marks you out as being black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME), the chances are you’ll earn 16.1 per cent less on average than your white, British colleagues.

That’s according to ITN’s own data, which it published last week. As well as the pay gap, there was a mean bonus gap of 66 per cent. BAME employees make up 15 per cent of ITN’s workforce, despite the production company having its headquarters in London, a city where roughly 40 per cent of the population are BAME. “Clearly this isn’t where we want to be,” ITN’s own report admitted. Natalie Morris, writing for the magazine gal-dem, put it a different way: “BAME pay gap figures – where’s the outrage?”

BAME workers with degrees earn less than white colleagues

There is certainly plenty to be outraged about. Multiple experiments have already shown that if you submit a CV with a traditionally English-sounding name, you are more likely to get a call than if your name suggests you are from an ethnic minority. Those BAME workers who do manage to get a foot in the door will probably earn less than their similarly-educated colleagues: recent research by the Trades Union Council found that black workers with a degree earn 13.9 per cent less than their white colleagues. As for the boardroom? The 2017 Parker Review found that of the 1,050 director positions in FTSE 100 firms, just 2 per cent are held by British citizens from ethnic minorities, despite the same group making up 14 per cent of the UK population. Whether you call it unconscious bias or just plain racism, something is clearly wrong.

But there is also a second question to ask. While there are plenty of Brits who dedicate their lives to the fight for equality, last time I checked ITN was a multinational production company part-owned by the same company that owns the Daily Mail. It must have known that publishing the data would give it bad press. So why do it?

Companies that overlook BAME workers are missing out on talent

First, because trying to attract, hire and promote the right people without making an effort to include BAME workers is daft. A significant chunk of graduates in sought-after disciplines like medicine, law, business and computer science are BAME. Black and Asian student numbers are rising. The two countries churning out the most graduates in the world are India and China. In the UK, 14 per cent of the working population is from a BAME background, and in cities like London and Birmingham, the proportion is far higher. If a company is to attract the best talent in the world, making it clear that you do not need a lack of pigmentation or the name of a Tudor king to be valued is a good start.

You can’t solve a problem without understanding whats happening

Still, ITN could have tried to get this message across the way plenty of other companies do – with a glossy advertising campaign filled with diverse faces. So why publish the data? Ultimately, if you want to solve a problem, you need to be able to know what’s happening. As the more detailed research on the gender pay gap shows, there are multiple reasons it exists. Yes, sexist bosses are one of them. But comparing data has also revealed more subtle patterns, like the council workers in female-dominated sectors receiving less than those in similarly skilled but male-dominated sectors, or the fact the gender pay gap increases the older a woman gets. And it can undermine explanations that, on the face of it, can sound convincing (women ask for pay rises as often as men, according to a 2016 study – they are just less likely to get them).

There are still many questions that remain unanswered about the BAME pay gap, partly because the group it describes is so diverse. Would a fair-skinned Muslim woman have a better chance at getting a pay rise than a black Londoner called George? Is the experience of British workers from a BAME background similar to those born abroad? How relevant is your accent or your location or your class? Roughly a third of British Indian families have a weekly income of £1,000 or more, according to the Office for National Statistics, compared to 17 per cent of British Pakistanis. Is there a similar difference in the workplace?

Putting The McGregor-Smith review into practice

Of course, data itself doesn’t solve the problem, as any feminist campaigner knows. Importantly, the ITN report also included targets to reduce the BAME pay gap, and an explanation of how the company hoped to achieve it. This includes ensuring at least one BAME candidate is interviewed for every job, running networking events, consulting staff and publishing salary bands for all roles. Any member of staff who feels they aren’t being paid equally can also ask a third party to consider their case.

These ideas are not plucked out of thin air. In 2017 the government published Race in the workplace: The McGregor-Smith review. As well as encouraging HR managers to question all-white candidate shortlists, it recommended training workers to recognise unconscious biases, recruiting from a wider range of universities and introducing mentoring schemes.

And if there was one message from the McGregor-Smith review, it was this.

No employer can honestly say they are improving the ethnic diversity of their workforce unless they know their starting point and can monitor their success over time. Simply stating a commitment to diversity or establishing a race network is not sufficient to drive lasting change.

It went on to recommend the government should introduce requirements for large companies to publish their ethnicity pay gap on a yearly basis, as is already the case in the US. The government here has already introduced similar legislation for the gender pay gap.

So while the PR departments of other big companies may have rested easy this week, those who remain complacent about the need to tackle the BAME pay gap may be in for a shock. As for ITN, by publishing its data, it has made its pledges meaningful. Let’s hope it measures up.

Julia Rampen

Julia Rampen is the digital night editor at the Liverpool Echo, a former digital news editor at the New Statesman and financial journalist.

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